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Enel Green Power’s Eliano Russo: Think locally to build manufacturing resilience

Russo has dedicated nearly his entire career to the development of renewable energy. He first joined Enel in 2004, leading the company’s carbon strategy, before moving to E.ON, where he worked with carbon sourcing, renewables, and energy storage. Russo rejoined Enel in 2017 as head of E-Industries, before taking on his current role this year as head of 3Sun Gigafactory, one of the largest photovoltaic production plants in Europe.

  1. What are the most critical challenges facing manufacturers right now?

Eliano Russo: Until recently, the biggest challenges were related to the disruption of the supply chain and labor shortages, both of which have worsened during the pandemic. We are also experiencing challenges related to health and safety in the workplace, cybersecurity, and capacity constraints. 

Due to recent international events, the list of challenges has grown, and I would now add the reliability of our energy supply to the list, especially given the sanctions that are now being put in place.

  1. What can be done to overcome these hurdles?

ER: In terms of labor shortages, I see that manufacturers are training and investing in their employees to strengthen relationships and build trust. As for the supply chain, manufacturers are working to build resilience, which often means thinking locally or regionally, rather than globally.

Business models are changing dramatically as well, and you can no longer win on your own. You win when you contribute to creating sustainable ecosystems where all partners can benefit. In this context, energy supply naturally plays a vital role, and the resilience of this supply depends heavily on the development of renewable energy.  

  1. What new opportunities have emerged during this time?

ER: The opportunities for local suppliers are immense, especially as we move toward a more regional and less global supply chain. I think that our own 3Sun solar panel factory in Catania, in Sicily’s high-tech “Etna Valley,” is a good example. Thanks to an agreement with the EU, this Italian gigafactory (called TANGO for short) is creating a thousand new jobs and gives a real boost to the local economy, all while producing renewable energy that will be beneficial for all.

  1. How can digitalization add value to manufacturing? 

ER: Personally, I think that the potential benefits are enormous. Digitalization will offer manufacturers far greater access to data, and they will be able to analyze that data rapidly and effectively. It will be the basis not only for customized reporting but also to run all the analytics and develop the algorithms that drive more productivity and efficiency.

Digitalization will ensure that processes can be analyzed in detail and then optimized, and it allows operating costs to be fully understood and then reduced. Essentially, it’s creating value in every sense.

  1. How do you see the industry changing over the next decade?

ER: So far, we haven’t really talked about the technological revolution. On the one hand, manufacturing is going to be more local and more regional, but on the other, it’s going to be much more interconnected. 

This is the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) we are now in, with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) playing an increasingly important role. Then there’s augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and the fascinating sci-fi element of the “metaverse.” It’s hard to wrap our heads around this, but companies are already using a sort of “parallel universe” to test and display products. This will become more widespread over the next decade.